The initial set-up is fantastic; placing you in a red Rover 75 with a motley-crue of cockney shade-masters. "Who's the bird?" exclaims the appropriately named "Eyebrows", in his thick LDN tones. Across the road, a lady in a tight leather jacket sprints towards the passenger seat of the car. She flicks open the door and slams it behind her. "I can't believe Charlie's put me with a bunch of amateurs," she rants. It's the second F-bomb in a sixty second sequence which goes on to drop eight more.
There's no denying from the outset of The Getaway that it's all meant to be a bit dark and gritty; and the exposition's brilliant. The crew inside the Rover 75 do end up being "amateurs", killing their target in cold blood; a young woman with a child. The child's hurriedly placed back in the Rover 75, but as the shot lady screams her final words — Mark, a youngish man in a suit, comes rushing down to comfort her. She asks one last thing of the man, "Save our son," before dying in his arms - and putting you in control of the dapper Lewis Collins look-a-like. I was quite surprised by the set-up; the intro leads you to believe you'll be playing as "Eyebrows" and co, but you end up jumping into the nearest Saab and chasing down the crew in the Rover 75.
The Getaway's set in London, and it has the vibe of a Guy Ritchie movie. Everyone's a cockney smack head, screaming "fack" (do it with the accent) like there's no other word in the English vocabulary. One of the more distinctly British sound-byte comes after you take down an enemy. Protagonist Mark will shout, "Yeah, you muppet," in a way that's delightfully rewarding. Despite being a bit stiff, the voice-acting's surprisingly good actually. It's all complimented by a soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place on a retro cop show like The Professionals or The Sweeney.
The gameplay relies on two separate mechanics: driving and shooting. The driving's not bad, but the environments can feel wooden as there's little to no physics applied to them. Crashing into a traffic lights pole will result in your car stopping dead, rather than denting or damaging the post. There's mild damage applied to the cars, but it's very minimal. Still, this is all criticism based on hind-sight - we're used to worlds with plenty of physics these days, but they weren't possible on the PlayStation 2. The recreation of London is surprisingly realistic however — you'll whiz past old-fashioned taxis and Royal Mail parcel vans; with shop-fronts adorning their licensed fittings: Car Phone Warehouse, etc. I'm yet to spot a Tesco, but I'm guessing it's in there.
The other side of The Getaway's coin is the shooting. Ah yes, the shooting. In its day, The Getaway was criticised for having some of the worst shooting mechanics on the PS2, so you can only imagine how well its aged. It's particularly horrific. Disappointingly so, because looking at the game with the benefit of hind-sight you can see just how revolutionary it was.
The on-foot action feels distinctly PlayStation. It's an unusual statement to make, but you can spot it a mile off; particularly in action games. The Getaway has super-smooth animation, and a super-cinematic style to it that so many PlayStation games have adopted as their USP (Killzone, Uncharted, so on). It's clearly motion capped, and staggeringly well done. Your character wobbles when he's been shot, he reaches down to pick up weapons on the floor and can hide behind cover. I was quite surprised to find such an early PS2 title to have a cover system. The shooting feels like a precursor to Uncharted 2. It just does not handle very well. In attempting the super-slick, super-animated style, The Getaway's actual mechanics take a back-seat. And that makes shooting things substantially more challenging than it should.
An early shoot-out takes you through a liquor storage factory. You're able to use the boxes of Stella and Fosters as cover, leaning out and taking dudes down with a slightly clunky lock-on feature. Free-aim's a mess, forcing you to play with inverted controls and without a cross-hair. The Getaway has no HUD whatsoever, which adds to the cinematic style but harms the gameplay. There's no indication of when to reload, and health is represented by your character's movement. What's more, once you've been shot, you're in trouble. There's no health-packs, no regeneration, nothing. Yes, it's realistic, but it's also impossible.
The real killer of the on-foot action is the camera controls however. How much do we take for granted the swinging camera of games these days? Frankly a lot, as the Getaway does away with all that. The camera's fixed to behind the character, so you're unable to peek around corners without using the cover system. Again, it's more realistic, but it's frustrating when you run into a dude mouthing off with a shotgun, simply because you never saw him.
After several attempts, I managed to brush past the guards in the beer factory and locate Charlie, the chap the folks at the start of the game had referred to. Turns out the dude's a dead-ringer for Mike Reid and a bit of an all-round jerk. But as much as I want to play The Getaway, the controls and general game design already put me off. While forward-thinking, the actual mechanics clearly took a backseat in The Getaway. The narrative goes on to weave between Mark and a member of the Flying Squad, DC Frank Carter. The novelty is worth exploring, but the concept lacks execution. It's the setting that makes The Getaway inviting, and as such I'd love to see the franchise make a come-back in the near future. Whether it'll ever get recommissioned is another question - I suspect The Getaway 3's cancellation in 2008 had something to do with its similarity to the Uncharted franchise. Still, the setting and tone is distinctly different to Nathan Drake's exploits, so there'll always be hope for the niche and unloved franchise. There's a brilliant story dying to get out of The Getaway, but sadly, few will ever have the patience to experience it.
Developer: Team Soho (now Studio London)
Release Date: 11th December 2002 [EU]; 19th January 2003 [US]
Late To The Party is PushSquare's retro games column, where editor Sammy Barker returns to a classic PlayStation franchise with the luxury of hindsight.